The Mets are under one week until their pitchers and catchers report. What has happened in just one move changed the view of the whole team to many baseball fans. Before the Mets acquired LHP Johan Santana, most people put the Mets behind the Phillies, simply because the Phillies finished in first last season. Some people even went as far as to put the Braves ahead of the Mets, which I really think is outrageously stupid.
The pitchers are in great shape now. Just compare it to last season, when the Mets dominated the rest of the National League for the most of the season. The group of starting pitchers on the Mets was one of the most shaky-looking, unbalanced, and unproven group in the Major Leagues. When I say shaky-looking, it comes from the fact that Tom Glavine was over 40 years old and his fastball speed slowed down to nearly 80 miles per hour. He still had a pretty solid season, but I don’t see him having that this year with Atlanta. Another way the rotation was shaky was that Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez is the most fragile human being ever. He is always hurt. He was hurt in the 2006 playoffs, he was hurt various times in 2007, and his age was not getting any younger. And if that’s not enough, Pedro Martinez was coming off a rotator cuff injury that he couldn’t recover from until late in the season, very late in the season. At the time, the Mets had unproven pitchers such as John Maine and Oliver Perez, who somehow had some actual success in the playoffs of 2006. Their arms died down at the end of the year, one factor that contributed to the Mets’ Historic Collapse, losing a 7-game lead with 17 games to play.
Alright, this year, everything is different. Those unproven pitchers from last year now are proven, as they were able to go a full season in the major leagues together. The starting rotation for the Mets is now stable. Here is the likely rotation: 1. Johan Santana, 2. Pedro Martinez, 3. John Maine, 4. Oliver Perez, 5. Orlando Hernandez.
Santana is likely to start opening day over Pedro Martinez. If any Mets fan in 2004 would have found out that the Mets not only acquired Pedro Martinez, but that he isn’t even the number 1 starter today, that fan would probably faint. Anyway, that is how much the Mets have built their team. The rotation is so powerful that I see the Mets doing more than winning the division this year, but I’m not getting into predictions because I hate predicting.
The bullpen has nearly no differences from last year. The following players that are on the Mets roster right now have already played for them: Willie Collazo, Carlos Muniz, Joe Smith, Jorge Sosa, Scott Schoeneweis, Pedro Feliciano, Duaner Sanchez, Aaron Heilman, and Billy Wagner. There is only one player who hasn’t played for the team, Matt Wise. He pitched in 56 games last season for the Brewers, when he went 3-2 with a 4.19 ERA. Other than him and Santana, Mets GM Omar Minaya hasn’t done much else this off-season, not that he needed to anyway. He did, however, throw away nearly the entire farm system, giving Lastings Milledge away for Schneider.
The bullpen shouldn’t be put under so much pressure this season, especially at the end of the season, because the starting pitchers won’t be pulling their 4 or 5-inning start garbage this season, I hope. The addition of Santana will hopefully rest this bullpen staff more throughout, something that was hard to imagine last year. Veteran pitcher Tom Glavine, who left for Atlanta earlier this off-season, wasn’t nearly as talented as what the Mets will have at the beginning of their rotation this season, and since Pedro Martinez should be ready to pitch the entire season, the balance of pitchers starting will be quite even.
Duaner Sanchez was injured in a taxi accident halfway through 2006, forcing him to miss the rest of the season. He had his arm operated on, and it turned out unsuccessful. He was forced to miss the entire 2007 season. It’s too bad because in 2006, Duaner was pitching great for the time he was able to. It was also too bad because the Mets were forced to trade away an outfielder, Xavier Nady, who was a perfect addition in the beginning of 2006. He would also fit nicely on the team right now, much more nicely than Ryan Church.
The bulk of the starters right now are from last year, but there are slight changes. The catcher position as of right now has Brian Schneider, which I expect to change by midseason. Patrolling right field now is Ryan Church, who was acquired in a trade with the Nationals for Lastings Milledge.
Now, let’s go back to Brian Schneider. Schneider hit only .235 in 129 games, while Ramon Castro hit 5 more homers than Schneider in about 80 less games. I am not sure how he will do, but I think Castro will get the starting nod over Schneider sometime this season, I’m guessing around the all-star break.
In the middle infield, Jose Reyes and Luis Castillo were able to communicate and work together last season for the second half of the year. I think they’ll be fine this year and should be able to work together well if Castillo stays in the number 2 hole behind Reyes at the plate. Third base-wise, following a disappointing April, David Wright patched things up and was back to his original self, hitting .325 and smacking 30 home runs while he tried to bring some life to the dead Mets of September. I think he’ll be fine this year and should have one of the best seasons of his career.
In the outfield, I believe Moises Alou will not play much more than 100 games. Something always finds a way to injure him, and his body isn’t 20 years old anymore, it’s over 40. Even with it over 40 years old, the batting stance and style he uses prevents his bat from slowing down, giving him the great ability to hit the ball hard and maintain lengthy hitting streaks. For example, he holds the longest hitting streak in MLB history at 30 games, which he accomplished last season. Carlos Beltran had a low average last year at .276, but he usually does. Instead of hitting for average, he hit 33 home runs and over 30 doubles.
As far as first base is concerned, Carlos Delgado is aging, but I think he has one more special season left in him because this season should be just that, special. He is a great power hitter, and he was still able to smack 24 homers last year. I’d like to see him hit 30 homers this year because I believe it will be his last year of at least 20 homers for him. Last year, he just couldn’t connect at the plate and had a hard time making contact. He also had a tough time adjusting to the infield and outfield shifts that the opponents used against him. You’d think that a player like him with great ability to hit the ball would be able to get around that kind of thing and just knock it the opposite way, but he wasn’t able to at all. He needs to fix that this season.
The bench is in great shape. Throughout the years, Omar Minaya built it up like a big wall, and it’s paid off. Marlon Anderson was re-acquired last year, Endy Chavez is a gold-glove outfielder, Damion Easley is a nice bat off the bench, and we’ll see what Angel Pagan can do. These bench players are meant to play the bench. The only magic that I’ve seen off this bench in the long-term starting role is when Jose Valentin started at second base for 2006 and part of 2007. He had a bad season in the beginning of 2006 off the bench, making many people wonder why the Mets still had him. Many more people wondered why he started playing second base so often, but he did an amazing job of it. He even was a top contestant for the comeback player of the year award.
It doesn’t hurt to keep a winning coaching staff together, and that’s what the Mets front office has been able to do. Other than some small changes, the front office has been able to keep most of the coaches together. The Manager, Willie Randolph, the bench coach, Jerry Manuel, and the pitching coach, Rick Peterson, all are quite well-known around Mets nation because they’ve done their job. They’ve won a division together, won a playoff series together, and have won nearly 200 games together in the past two seasons.